Is Tattoo Numbing Cream Safe?
There's no getting around it: getting a tattoo can really hurt. The area of the skin that the tattoo gun has to penetrate holds pain receptors that send signals to the brain to alert it to an injury. While many people don't consider a tattoo an injury, of course, in the simplest terms that's what it is – even though it’s voluntary!
While there’s very little you can do to avoid the pain of a tattoo altogether, one thing that does exist to significantly lessen the pain is numbing cream. Numbing cream is used for various medical purposes, but tattooing is perhaps the most widespread off-label use. So what is this magical substance, exactly? And is tattoo numbing cream safe to use? Read on to find out.
What is tattoo numbing cream?
Tattoo numbing cream is a type of cream you can rub on the skin where your tattoo will be inked. It is considered to be a topical or local anesthetic, meaning it numbs the area. Topical anesthetics dampen or hinder pain receptors from doing their job in one specific area of the body. One well-known example of a local anesthetic is an epidural, which is injected into the body. Topical anesthetics such as tattoo numbing cream are applied directly to the skin (i.e. topically).
The ingredients used in numbing creams are agents that penetrate the skin and numb pain receptors. They can include:
These ingredients are typically safe to use, and can get deep enough into the skin to quell the messaging system that would tell the brain an injury is occurring. Tattoo creams may also contain adrenaline, which works by keeping the anesthetic ingredient localized to one area.
Can tattoo numbing cream burn your skin?
Since there are medicinal ingredients in tattoo numbing cream, it can have some mild side effects. Not everyone who uses the cream will experience these side effects, and they are typically not severe. One such adverse effect could be a burning sensation on the skin where the cream was applied.
Other side effects can include:
- Irritation to the area of skin where the cream is applied
- Redness on the skin
- Discoloration of the skin
These adverse effects are not typically something to worry about. However, if you have an allergy to the cream, the symptoms could be much worse and affect your ability to get a tattoo that same day. Some people may also be more prone to these effects if they have certain heart conditions or a blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia.
Can tattoo numbing cream cause infection?
While tattoo numbing cream is typically safe for use, there have been some cases in which a tattoo cream caused an infection. Since tattoos pierce the skin, the risk of infection can be high from the outset. However, the ingredients in the numbing cream are not the culprit behind infections developed during a tattoo.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures that products like these go through rigorous testing and are safe for public use. In some instances of tattoo numbing cream, the FDA was forced to recall a product because of contamination. One such product, Pre-Tat by Tat Balm, was recalled in 2019 because it contained bacteria that could potentially cause infection. However, the vast majority of numbing creams should pose no risk of infection.
What happens if you use too much numbing cream?
Using too much numbing cream is a different story. Using excess cream can actually lead to severe or life-threatening consequences. For example, the blood disorder mentioned above, methemoglobinemia, can actually be developed in people who use too much.
Excessive lidocaine use can also have serious adverse health effects on the body. Some people may risk developing lidocaine toxicity, which is when the cream seeps into the body and bloodstream and toxifies it. The symptoms and signs of lidocaine toxicity include:
- Sensory issues
- Blurred vision
- Muscle twitches
- Loss of consciousness
- Low blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Chest pain or tightness
- Difficulty breathing
- Respiratory failure
These signs and symptoms are severe and require immediate medical attention. That said, it’s rare for a person who’s using tattoo numbing cream sparingly or for a single tattoo to experience lidocaine toxicity. To ensure that you're using the correct type of cream, try to choose one with lower lidocaine levels.
When do you apply tattoo numbing cream?
The directions to apply tattoo numbing cream will depend on the brand and type you choose. For example, GenBoost's new tattoo numbing cream involves application 45 minutes before getting the tattoo done. This gives the cream enough time to soak into the skin and numb the pain receptors while also giving you enough time to go through a three-hour tattoo with pain relief.
How safe are tattoos in general?
While tattoo numbing cream does come with some risks, the process of getting a tattoo does too. It's all about using the cream properly and ensuring that you're observing good aftercare practices when you get a tattoo.
An injury to the skin, such as a tattoo, will always come with infection risk. If you use numbing cream properly, buy a high-quality brand, and take care of your skin and tattoo afterward, you can significantly decrease your risk of developing any adverse effects.